Grateful Dead - The Golden Road (1965-1973)Grateful Dead - Workingman's DeadGrateful Dead - American Beauty

Grateful Dead
Golden Road (1965-1973)

(WEA/Rhino)

Part Six: Workingman's Dead / American Beauty

The Music Box's #1 specialty package for 2001

First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2002, Volume 9, #5

Written by John Metzger

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Workingman's Dead/American Beauty

If there was any doubt that the Grateful Dead's music was firmly rooted in early folk and blues recordings, it most certainly was erased with the release of Workingman's Dead. Gone were the strange psychedelic sounds and long improvisational jams that filled each of the group's first four albums. In their place stood a starkly different band one that served up concise, acoustic-oriented tunes more befitting of a campfire sing-along than a rock concert. Everything from the album's cover to its songs' dusty lyrics conjured images of the Wild West more than it did an Acid Test.

Yet, the Grateful Dead hadn't really changed as much as it first appeared. True, each of the songs on Workingman's Dead (as well as the subsequent American Beauty) was open-ended enough to fit comfortably within the band's jammed-out concert repertoire. (For proof, just visit any of the bonus cuts on either of the reissued discs). But the albums themselves stripped away the band's many textured layers to reveal what they had become mature songwriters who worshiped at the feet of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.

But the group didn't just stop there. It incorporated every slice of Americana between the Smith collection and 1970 into Workingman's Dead compositions. Merle Haggard, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Bob Wills they can all be found peeking around the edges of songs like Cumberland Blues, Uncle John's Band, Dire Wolf, and Easy Wind. Indeed, the collaboration between Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter had paid off with the eight perfectly constructed, timeless songs of Workingman's Dead.

As if that wasn't enough, the group returned just a few months later with increased confidence and a second masterpiece of new American folk. The songs on American Beauty were a bit more elaborate in their construction than those on Workingman's Dead. And, the sometimes breezy beauty of the harmonies and instrumentation belied the crumbling world in which the Grateful Dead lived, at times hiding the air of sadness that hung over tracks like Box of Rain and Ripple.

There's no question, too, that the members of the Grateful Dead were listening to their peers. Their harmonies invoked comparisons with those of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and the group's laid-back, country vibe channeled that of The Byrds and The Band. If Workingman's Dead pulled the Anthology of American Folk Music up to the present, American Beauty set folk-rock's path for the future.

Though the Grateful Dead still had countless classic compositions and a handful of excellent albums left in them, they unfortunately never quite managed to recapture the studio magic that persisted throughout Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Although more than thirty years have passed, these two magnificent, epic albums remain as powerful as the day they were released, and as such are two of the finest recordings in the history of rock 'n roll.

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Workingman's Dead starstarstarstarstar

classic

American Beauty starstarstarstarstar

classic

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This is the sixth installment of a nine part series, which
will examine
The Golden Road (1965-1973) album by album. The
entire set is rated:
starstarstarstarstar

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The Golden Road (1965-1973)

Part One: Birth of the Dead

Part Two: The Grateful Dead

Part Three: Anthem of the Sun

Part Four: Aoxomoxoa

Part Five: Live/Dead

Part Seven: Grateful Dead

Part Eight: Europe '72

Part Nine: History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice)

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Workingman's Dead is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

American Beauty is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

These albums are also part of the box set
Golden Road (1965-1973) is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright 2002 The Music Box